Consciousness and quantum theory

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I have just finished reading the ghost in the atom by P Davis and was intrigued by John Wheeler's interpretation of quantum theory where the wave function collapses when it enters the conciousness of an observer. I was wondering if since the book was published any progress has been made on this or whether it has been disproved.
 

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  • #2
FZ+
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Not conclusively either way, as far as I know. But I think the idea is mostly not accepted because it makes lots of assumptions, carries a lot of metaphysical baggage, and contains paradoxes like Wigner's Friend - basically a version of the schrodinger's cat problem with a human. Then, when the box is closed, and no one can observe the other, is the occupant real or are the experimentalists outside real?
 
  • #3
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If you take this to the extreme you could say the collapse of the wave function is the brain simply making an irreversible decision about which possibility to follow. How do we know that the other possibilities don't still exist outside our brain, provided our
brain sticks to it's story?
 
  • #4
Eh
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An unconscious observer works just as well.
 
  • #5
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Originally posted by Eh
An unconscious observer works just as well.
That response is getting smaller and smaller each time this issue's brought up, eh?

jackle, would you agree that our brains are made up of cells, which are made up of atoms, which are made up of subatomic particles? If so, what exactly is the difference, to a subatomic particle encountering another subatomic particle that is part of a brain, between that subatomic particle, and another that is a part of a rock, or a part of a glass of water?
 
  • #6
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Exactly Mentat. So why should the wave function collapse at all? If one particle can't collapse the wave function, or two, or three or three thousand, why should our brains? If it relys on consciousness perhaps the collapse is an illusion created by the nature of consciousness. This would explain why it relys on consciousness to 'work'. There is no other good explanation I have heard.

Maybe all those over-lapping realities are too much for us to focus on. We just experience one reality which evolves inside our consciousness. Out there, nothing has collapsed at all. This would mean that we are actually all alone in our own little world - a good reason for thinking up a better explanation fast!
 
  • #7
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Originally posted by jackle
Exactly Mentat. So why should the wave function collapse at all? If one particle can't collapse the wave function, or two, or three or three thousand, why should our brains?
That's the point, jackle, our brains have nothing to do with it. Particles do indeed collapse the wave-functions of other particles, through energetic reactions, but the point of my post was that whether the particle belongs to a brain or to a rock is irrelevant, and the wave-function will collapse regardless.

If it relys on consciousness perhaps the collapse is an illusion created by the nature of consciousness. This would explain why it relys on consciousness to 'work'. There is no other good explanation I have heard.
But it doesn't rely on consciousness. That (again) was the point of my post. Consciousness isn't even recognizable at the subatomic level, and the mathematics and physics of QM work just fine without the addition of the necessity for consciousness.
 
  • #8
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Horray!:smile:
 
  • #9
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Originally posted by jackle
Horray!:smile:
Huh?
 
  • #10
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Originally posted by Mentat
That's the point, jackle, our brains have nothing to do with it. Particles do indeed collapse the wave-functions of other particles, through energetic reactions,
Do we know that? I'm still unclear on the orthodox view of what collapses waves.


But it doesn't rely on consciousness. That (again) was the point of my post. Consciousness isn't even recognizable at the subatomic level, and the mathematics and physics of QM work just fine without the addition of the necessity for consciousness. [/B]
Except that consciousness creates them.
 
  • #11
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Originally posted by Canute
Do we know that? I'm still unclear on the orthodox view of what collapses waves.
Well, that's the thing about Theoretical Physics. There is no real "orthodox" view on most of the current issues. Energetic reactions can collapse wave-functions in different ways...it doesn't always occur, but sometimes it does.

Except that consciousness creates them.
Consciousness discovers them.
 
  • #12
dlgoff
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Maybe all those over-lapping realities are too much for us to focus on. We just experience one reality which evolves inside our consciousness. Out there, nothing has collapsed at all. This would mean that we are actually all alone in our own little world - a good reason for thinking up a better explanation fast!
Could it be "belief" or "faith" that an event will happen collapses the wavefunction?
 
  • #13
onycho
What experimentation can demonstrate that consciousness can collapse waves or particles?

Consciousness was addressed by Albert Einstein.

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.

Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."
We see our reality as we assume it exists
 

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  • #14
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Originally posted by Mentat
Well, that's the thing about Theoretical Physics. There is no real "orthodox" view on most of the current issues. Energetic reactions can collapse wave-functions in different ways...it doesn't always occur, but sometimes it does.
This means that we know for certain that a conscious observer is not required to collapse a wave function. Are you sure about that? I thought it was still being debated.

Consciousness discovers them. [/B]
That's an odd view. Isn't mathematics the study of numbers?
 
  • #15
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Originally posted by Canute
This means that we know for certain that a conscious observer is not required to collapse a wave function. Are you sure about that? I thought it was still being debated.
Not exactly. It's still being debated whether consciousness plays a role in collapsing the wave function, but it is not under debate whether this is necessary (at least, not in purely mathematical terms).

That's an odd view. Isn't mathematics the study of numbers?
Consciousness discovers the relationships that exist in nature, and then creates (you were right about that, I just mis-read you) the mathematics to understand them.
 
  • #16
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Originally posted by Canute
This means that we know for certain that a conscious observer is not required to collapse a wave function. Are you sure about that? I thought it was still being debated.
You are wise to question these things Canute. There are some very bold statements being made in this thread. It's a complicated topic and any serious study will leave many questions. Current research is still being done in this area and many questions remain. The best thing to do is to study as much as you can and try to understand it yourself to the best of your ability and develop your own view. This is one of those topics that is complex enough that three different people will give you three different spins depending on the view of reality they intend to support.
 
  • #17
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Fliption's right that you should continue to search for answers to these still-unanswered questions. However, there is one thing that cannot be disproven, merely on the basis of the fact that it is a negations, and negations can't be disproven...and that is that the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics work to describe the behavior of a particle very accurately, and can do so without the intoduction of conscious observation. The addition of the idea that consciousness is necessary is for the purpose of conceptualization and comprehension; and may indeed turn out to be true, but is not necessary for the mathematics to work, and is therefore (in my opinion) an unnecessary add-on that defies most of the things we know about consciousness and the brain.
 
  • #18
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Originally posted by Mentat
and that is that the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics work to describe the behavior of a particle very accurately, and can do so without the intoduction of conscious observation. The addition of the idea that consciousness is necessary is for the purpose of conceptualization and comprehension; and may indeed turn out to be true, but is not necessary for the mathematics to work, and is therefore (in my opinion) an unnecessary add-on that defies most of the things we know about consciousness and the brain.
This is true because there is no number called consciousness. It's the interpretation of what the math means that is the struggle. As opposed to calling it an unnecessary addition, I think this step is crucial and scientific. Without it we have nothing but math.
 
  • #19
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I agree about keeping an open mind. My questions were intended to suggest that not everyone here was doing that. As Fliption said, there are some over-bold claims being made. As far as I'm aware the details of relationship between wave-collapse and conscious observation remain a mystery, or at least a matter of debate.
 
  • #20
onycho
Originally posted by Canute

I agree about keeping an open mind. My questions were intended to suggest that not everyone here was doing that. As Fliption said, there are some over-bold claims being made. As far as I'm aware the details of relationship between wave-collapse and conscious observation remain a mystery, or at least a matter of debate.

The debate continues of this inexplicable relationship of wave-collapse and observations made by a conscious preception. Do we see reality as we assume it exists?

http://www.swcp.com/~hswift/swc/Summer99/goswami9901.htm [Broken]

The interpretational difficulties of quantum mechanics can be solved with the hypothesis (von Neumann, 1955; Wigner, 1962) that consciousness collapses the quantum wave function. The paradoxes raised against this hypothesis have now all been satisfactorily solved (Bass, 1971; Blood, 1993; Goswami, 1989, 1993; Stapp, 1993). There is, however, one question that continues to be raised: Is consciousness absolutely necessary for interpreting quantum mechanics? Can we find other alternatives to collapse and consciousness as the collapser?

Some of these alternatives propose to modify quantum mechanics in a major way (for example, nonlinear theories); others are not philosophically satisfactory (for example, decoherence theories); still others invoke other questionable physical theories in order to make sense of quantum mechanics (Cramers, 19; Penrose, 1994). But there are two theories, one due to David Bohm (19), and the other called the many worlds theory (Everett, 1957), that still attract a lot of adherents.

In this short paper, we will argue that Bohm's theory is better interpreted with collapse of the wave function (and therefore, consciousness brought into the arena). As for the many worlds theory, even the latest versions of this theory requires special treatment of the conscious observer in order to make sense, and is thus a dualist theory (readers can verify this following the same general argument as Squires (1987)). Some final comments are also made about the implication of this reinterpretation for Bohm's philosophy of implicate and explicate order.

The Reinterpretation of Bohm's Causal Interpretation

Bohm's basic idea is to represent the situation of quantum mechanics with a wave piloting a particle, an idea he took from de Broglie (19). However, whereas de Broglie envisioned quantum objects as a physical wave piloting a physical particle, Bohm's waves are not physical waves; instead, they satisfy the Schroedinger equation. In other words, they are wave of possibility given by the quantum wave function. By writing the wave function as a product of two quantities -- the amplitude (whose square gives us the probability of finding the object in a given region of space) and the phase, Bohm does recover Newton's equation for a particle with coordinate x (and velocity v) evolving in a trajectory. The trajectory then is claimed to represent the real world of Newtonian vintage. The wave guides the trajectory through the so-called quantum potential in addition to whatever other force-field the object is under. This quantum potential is non-local and the effect of it continues even in empty space, so, for example, Newton's first law that objects travel in straight lines in the absence of any external forces no longer applies.

In the case of the double-slit experiment, for example, Bohm's particle equation can show us curved trajectories of how a particle may be able to go through one slit and still arrive at classically forbidden places on a fluorescent plate. How does the particle know that the other slit is open and veer itself to the quantum mechanically allowed places? Through the nonlocal influence of the quantum potential, which acts as a source of "active information."

Because the particle equation has been derived from the Schroedinger equation with only a little bit of redefinition of momentum (so that both momentum and position of the particle are simultaneously definable), it is assumed that Bohm's theory is equivalent to quantum mechanics (although there are some subtle differences). Bohm and his collaborators think that this is a causal interpretation of quantum mechanics because a classical trajectory has been calculated. But this thinking is fallacious.

The classical equation in Bohm's theory is not, strictly speaking, a space-time equation because the quantum potential depends on the wave function, which has no space-time existence until it is collapsed. Thus the causal discontinuity of quantum mechanics still remains because without wave function collapse, without knowing where the particle ends up, Bohm's method cannot be applied to calculate the particle trajectory.

Through sheer sophistry, Bohm and his collaborators avoid dealing with the fundamental problem of quantum measurement: why only one of the possibilities become actual in a measurement while all others do not. As Henry Stapp (1989) has already pointed out, the measurement problem is "bypassed" by assuming that the quantum potential forces the particle into one channel, although the other channels of the wave function remain empty. Stapp also points out that only the probability is testable even in Bohm's theory (as in quantum mechanics), not the quantum potential. In Stapp's opinion, a theory such as Bohm's that does not add anything tangible to quantum mechanics, but only adds extra elements on the basis of classical intuition, is not worth much investigation.

However, over the years, Bohm's theory has enjoyed a certain popularity and should not be dismissed off hand. Like Stapp, we believe that the measurement problem is not solved by Bohm's interpretation of his mathematics, but suppose we interpret Bohm's equations without any classical prejudice. What then?

Suppose we agree, as logic dictates, that Bohm's calculations are pertinent only in the aftermath of the wave function collapse, only when we know where the particle has ended up in a given measurement. Bohm's method then enables us to calculate the entire trajectory leading to the point of collapse. Thus the collapse can be seen to entail not only the possibility wave collapsing to a particle at the point of collapse, but the collapse of the entire trajectory going backwards in time.

Notice that, in this view, discontinuity of collapse remains: out of all the quantum possibilities a unique actuality is discontinuously chosen (by our observation and in our experience). But now we can go back in time and reconstruct the pathway of events in space-time leading to the event of collapse. We cannot relive these past events in the present moment, but there may be (fossil) remnants of these events now that may enable us to verify the validity of such a reconstruction.

Bohm has always emphasized how beautiful his theory is for understanding and appreciating quantum nonlocality as the action of the quantum potential. Yet Stapp's criticism cannot be denied: the quantum potential is not an observable. But under the action of the quantum potential, the calculated trajectories of Bohm's theory have unusual characteristics. Could these unusual characteristics be observable?

One such unusual characteristic is faster-than-light propagation. In the phenomenon of quantum tunneling, the time taken by a quantum object while going through the tunnel can be measured, and such measurements are now revealing a compelling case of faster-than-light propagation (Chiao). This, in our opinion, proves the usefulness of Bohm's theory.

Is such faster-than-light propagation against the theory of relativity? Hardly. We still cannot directly observe the object in its faster-than-light condition, any attempt to observe will destroy the tunnel. Speed-of-light limit applies to trajectories that are directly observable; the trajectories of objects in tunneling a' la Bohm are unobservable, so no challenge of relativity theory is necessary.
continued
 
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  • #21
onycho
Wave-Collapse Part 2

Originally posted by onycho
The debate continues of this inexplicable relationship of wave-collapse and observations made by a conscious preception. Do we see reality as we assume it exists?

Implicate and Explicate Order

In his philosophical writings, Bohm also also leaves us with the impression that reality comes to us via two orders, one implicate or implicit or hidden that guides the behavior of what is explicate or explicit, the order that we see, the order that is causal and objective. With a reinterpretation of Bohm's work, his philosophy of implicate and explicate orders also needs to be modified.

The implicate order is easily seen as the transcendent order of quantum potential where ontologically, the quantum wave functions or possibility waves reside. The explicate order, however, is neither causal nor objective. It is not causal because there is no way to calculate the trajectories of objects in it a priori and thus there is no reason to assume that they exist a priori, before the discontinuous wave function collapse. It is not objective, because the result of wave function collapse happens in our experience; collapse cannot be eliminated and neither can the observer from our description of reality. The collapse of the present event, however, brings about the collapse of an entire pathway of events leading to the present moment going backwards in time. These past "events" cannot be lived now, but certain remnants or memories of these events elicited now can reveal their implicit existence.

In the human dimension, the idealist interpretation is being used to construct a new science within consciousness that can treat not only the material world, but also our internal mental world, for example, a theory of creativity (Goswami, 1998). A creative experience is sudden and discontinuous, a quantum leap, according to this theory. Although many creative people describe their creative act this way, a considerable amount of controversy exists showing a lot of disagreement with this position. Bohm's ideas can resolve the controversy. Although discontinuity dominates the creative experience, after the event, if there is enough memory from the ex-post-facto collapsed past, then one can reinterpret one's experience as a continuous one, especially if one's prejudices are disposed that way.

In conclusion, with this straightforward interpretation of Bohm's work, we have demonstrated that collapse of the wave function and consciousness as the causal agent for collapse remains basic in any interpretation of quantum mechanics and any understanding of quantum measurement.
 
  • #22
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Originally posted by onycho
In conclusion, with this straightforward interpretation of Bohm's work, we have demonstrated that collapse of the wave function and consciousness as the causal agent for collapse remains basic in any interpretation of quantum mechanics and any understanding of quantum measurement.

QUANTUM THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

EVAN HARRIS WALKER

Here is some insight on the subject.

http://users.erols.com/wcri/CONSCIOUSNESS.html [Broken]
 
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  • #23
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Onycho.

Thanks for that. It's funny how science cannot get rid of consciousness. It must be damn annoying. [b(]
 
  • #24
onycho
Originally posted by Canute
Onycho.

Thanks for that. It's funny how science cannot get rid of consciousness. It must be damn annoying. [b(]
It is amusing to see the majority of the scientific community attempting to observe a chaotic universal reality becoming a state of conscious equilibrium.

Experimentation and results send many thinkers into a frenzied scramble to find alternative theories which would eliminate the need for a 'Watchmaker.' A general unified equation that fits the entire universe physics instead of string theories and involuted universes that have always been present.
 
  • #25
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People,
This is getting ridiculous. No offense, onycho, but nothing that's been posted here has shown that consciousness is necessary for quantum weirdness. The introduction of consciousness as a key player in QM is for the purpose of conceptulatization and comprehension, it is not necessary for the mathematics or for the physics.

Trying to discover quantum theories of consciousness is also a dead-end, AFAIC, since if consciousness were a quantum phenomenon, then thought would have to exist as discreet entities...and this cannot be the case, as per the homunculun problem of philosophies of the mind.

In short, the introduction of consciousness into quantum mechanics is just a desperate attempt to conceive of it, when (in my opinion) conception is almost completely irrelevant to use, and is thus not a worthy goal.
 

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